Netflix’s new documentary series, Wild Wild Country, explores a wild era in the 1980s when an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh asks his inner circle of followers to create a new community in rural Oregon. What happens next is unprecedented and unpredictable, as the followers of Rajneesh (called Rajneeshees) buy land and start building their perceived utopia next to a retirement town of only dozens of mostly older, socially conservative Oregonians. But perhaps the most surprising part of all for me was that I had never heard any of this before—and I’m guessing I’m not alone. After finishing the six hour-plus episodes, I have some thoughts on both craft and content. Minor spoilers ahead.
Topics of intrigue:
–Contradictions galore. I’m fascinated by the contradictory nature of the Rajneesh movement, which was about free love and finding spiritual nirvana, among other things. Yet, Bhagwan and his followers encourage commerce and therefore materialism, are willing to physically harm non-followers and intimidate them with weapons, and even criticize many aspects of the U.S. government while also using and finding loopholes for political gain and to commit marriage fraud (!). And that’s only some of it. Color me shocked.
–This guy. A man after my own heart for going through the town’s trash in hopes of discovering cult secrets. I’m all in.
My personal hero (Netflix)
–Outdated media terms. Flabbergasted by the fact that the media seemed to have an official term for people living in poverty in the 80s and that term was “street people.” Seriously. Every time I heard it used I shuddered in embarrassment. That makes it sound, you know, as if the people chose to live on the street.
–What defines a cult? Several Rajneeshees ask this question, wondering why the locals and media were so quick to label them as a cult. They bring up a good point of asking why some religions like Catholicism and the Mormon Church aren’t considered cults. Something to leave us thinking about.
–The unreadable font. Come on, producers! Yes, Jay and Mark Duplass, I’m talking to you two. Viewers have to be able to read your font! I’m fine with this font choice for the main title card of ‘Wild Wild Country,’ but using this hard-to-read script font for people’s names and names of towns just doesn’t work in the short time you have text on screen. This is especially tricky when so many people are using their Rajneeshee name, and thus names that are unfamiliar to many viewers and harder to guess.
Wait, who is this? (Netflix)
–Whodunit? There’s a turning point between the locals in Oregon and the Rajneeshees that escalates matters—a bomb goes off in a Portland hotel that the Rajneeshees have bought and operate. The documentary goes on making us think that perhaps a local had set it off (luckily no one was seriously injured), but it doesn’t confirm either way who had done it. From internet confirmation, I now know that it was carried out by an Islamic terrorist group instead. I suppose that wasn’t convenient for the narrative of the Rajneeshees’ point of view in this fight or for the documentary. Oh well.
–What’s your name, again? For the uninitiated, all the different names and terms for Bhagwan and his followers are confusing. Is it Bhagwan, Rajneesh, or Osho? People in present day refer to him as Osho from the start of the documentary, but it isn’t until toward the end of his life does he ask his followers to call him Osho. Others have Rajneeshee names in front of their given name, like Ma Anand and Ma Shanti. Still waiting for them to tell us what that means.
–Give me more background. I wish the series delved into more of the actual teachings of Bhagwan. It jumps too quickly into the story of what happens in Oregon before having a better grasp of what was really driving the Rajneeshees to be so enamored with him in the first place and then be prepared to plan malicious acts in his name.
All in all, Wild Wild Country is so wild you have to say it twice.